It Takes Just 380 Milliseconds to Judge a Female Politician by Her Looks

A feminine face matters at the polls, new research has found.

National Journal
Marina Koren
May 15, 2014, 10:06 a.m.

She could have cam­paigned for months, but a wo­man’s suc­cess at the bal­lot box may have noth­ing to do with her policies, and something to do with her looks.

A new study from Dart­mouth Col­lege re­search­ers found that people could pre­dict wheth­er a fe­male politi­cian would win or lose an elec­tion with­in just 380 mil­li­seconds of see­ing a photo of her face. Turns out, how fem­in­ine wo­men’s fa­cial fea­tures are says a lot about their elect­or­al suc­cess.

Us­ing soft­ware that tracks com­puter mouse move­ments, re­search­ers showed nearly 300 par­ti­cipants pho­tos of politi­cians’ faces — the win­ners and run­ners-up in U.S. Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al elec­tions between 1998 and 2010. They then asked the par­ti­cipants to char­ac­ter­ize those faces as male or fe­male, and tracked how fast they made their de­cision. When par­ti­cipants saw a photo of a wo­man with re­l­at­ively mas­cu­line fea­tures, they ten­ded to hes­it­ate be­fore char­ac­ter­iz­ing her as “fe­male.” Pho­tos of wo­men with fem­in­ine fea­tures met with less un­cer­tainty.

It’s this pause, this gut re­ac­tion, that be­came the pre­dict­ive factor of elect­or­al suc­cess. The more par­ti­cipants were drawn to se­lect the male re­sponse when cat­egor­iz­ing the gender of a fe­male politi­cian’s face, the re­search­ers found, the less likely she was to win her elec­tion.

“In­di­vidu­als are highly sens­it­ive to gendered fa­cial cues, and these cues are pro­cessed with­in only mil­li­seconds after see­ing an­oth­er’s face,” says Jon Free­man, the study’s seni­or au­thor and de­veloper of the mouse-track­ing soft­ware. “It’s im­port­ant to ex­am­ine how fa­cial cues could in­ad­vert­ently af­fect fe­male politi­cians’ elect­or­al suc­cess, es­pe­cially giv­en the pos­sib­il­ity of a fe­male U.S. pres­id­ent in the near fu­ture and the rising num­ber of wo­men in Con­gress.”

Here’s how those snap de­cisions look, cour­tesy of Dart­mouth:

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4949) }}

The re­search­ers sus­pect that these find­ings are mod­er­ated by voters’ val­ues. In elec­tions in con­ser­vat­ive states, which are more likely to ad­here to tra­di­tion­al gender roles, fe­male can­did­ates with fem­in­ine fa­cial fea­tures won more of­ten than those with mas­cu­line fea­tures.

“Be­cause mas­culin­ity is ste­reo­typ­ic­ally as­so­ci­ated with lead­er­ship in the U.S., con­ser­vat­ives’ pref­er­ence for tra­di­tion­al gender roles and low tol­er­ance for un­cer­tainty may re­quire wo­men’s lead­er­ship as­pir­a­tions to be tempered by strong as­so­ci­ations with fem­in­in­ity, par­tic­u­larly in their ap­pear­ance,” says study au­thor Eric Heh­man.

Past re­search has shown that male politi­cians’ at­tract­ive­ness con­trib­utes to per­cep­tion of their com­pet­ence and lead­er­ship abil­ity. This cur­rent re­search isn’t about wheth­er voters find wo­men politi­cians at­tract­ive or cap­able. Rather, it’s about how their brains are hard­wired to re­spond to gender ste­reo­types. That pause in the ex­per­i­ment was what in­flu­enced wheth­er wo­men won or lost their elec­tions.

In oth­er words, how our brains sub­con­sciously pro­cess hu­man faces — and their bio­lo­gic­al and so­cial gender-spe­cif­ic at­trib­utes — can af­fect our vot­ing be­ha­vi­or more than how good-look­ing we con­sciously think they are.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×